Joe Nuxhall, 79; played, announced for Reds
Joe Nuxhall, who was the youngest baseball player in major league history and a beloved broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds, has died. He was 79.
Nuxhall died late Thursday at a hospital in Cincinnati after a bout with cancer, the Cincinnati Post reported Friday.
Nuxhall’s health problems had multiplied in recent years. He had surgery for prostate cancer in 1992, followed by a mild heart attack in 2001.
The cancer returned last February, when Nuxhall was preparing for the Reds’ spring training in Sarasota, Fla. The broadcaster called some games last season even though his left leg was swollen by tumors. He was hospitalized again this week.
He retired as a full-time radio broadcaster after the 2004 season, the 60th anniversary of his historic pitching debut.
Nuxhall’s place in baseball lore was secured the moment he stepped onto a big-league field. With major league rosters depleted during World War II, he got a chance to pitch in relief for the Reds on June 10, 1944.
No one in modern baseball history has played in the majors at such a young age -- 15 years, 10 months, 11 days old. He got two outs against St. Louis before losing his composure, then went eight years before pitching for the Reds again.
Nuxhall grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, near Cincinnati.
When the Reds were looking for wartime replacement players, the team offered him a contract, although he was still too young to shave. He was big for his age -- 6 feet 3, about 190 pounds -- and could throw 85 mph. Nuxhall’s parents let him join the team when junior high classes let out in 1944.
He spent most of the time watching from the bench, assuming he’d never get into a game. The Reds were trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 13-0 after eight innings on June 10, 1944, when manager Bill McKechnie decided to give the kid a chance.
Nuxhall was so rattled when summoned to warm up that he tripped on the top step of the dugout and fell on his face in front of 3,510 fans at Crosley Field. He was terrified when it came time to walk to the mound.
“Probably two weeks prior to that, I was pitching against seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old,” he said. “All of a sudden, I look up and there’s Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation.”
Nuxhall retired two batters and walked the opposing pitcher before glancing at the on-deck circle and seeing Musial.
Nuxhall unraveled -- Musial got a line-drive single, and the Cardinals scored five runs as the young pitcher lost his ability to throw a strike and failed to get another out.
“Those people that were at Crosley Field that afternoon probably said, ‘Well, that’s the last we’ll see of that kid,’ ” Nuxhall recalled.
The Reds sent him to the minors. Eight years later, he was back with the Reds. He spent 15 of his 16 big-league seasons with the team, winning 135 games and losing 117. He also pitched briefly for the Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Athletics before returning to the Reds and retiring in 1966.
A year later, Nuxhall started doing radio broadcasts, describing games in a slow-paced, down-home manner that caught on with listeners. Marty Brennaman became the play-by-play announcer in 1974, and the “Marty and Joe” tandem spent the next 28 seasons together.
Nuxhall developed a signature sign-off to each broadcast. He concluded postgame interviews by saying, “This is the old left-hander, rounding third and heading for home,” a saying that is illuminated across the top of the Reds’ administration building.
A private funeral will be held Wednesday.
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